Things Game Critics Need to STFU About

Okay, I tried to take the high road by writing my deeply personal Women in Gaming post. That was all about how, while I understand other women’s frustration with ingrained sexism in the realm of videogames, I’ve never personally found it as excessive or demoralizing as many others seem to. That was me being reasonable and maybe even smart; now, I’m just pissed.

There are certain arguments that game critics, particularly female game critics, really need to stop making…for no other reason than I’m tired of being pissed off. Now, before you accuse me of being selfish, remember: I’m a woman. My feelings matter, because I don’t have male privilege, which nine out of ten internets agree deprives you of most if not all feelings.

If you are a female game critic and you make any of these arguments, please turn in your vagina at the nearest…hell I don’t know where they even accept vaginas, just do it because I don’t want to share a gender with you. If you’re a man and you make these arguments, please remember that no matter how effectively you parrot the arguments of your female brethren, they will never, ever forgive you for the crime of having male privilege, so you may as well just quit while you’re ahead.

Bad Awful, Stupid, Contradictory Arguments That I’m Sick Of

1. Lara Croft Has Boobs Therefore is Only A Male Fantasy

You know, there’s this whole community of fan sites devoted to Tomb Raider, run by smart, passionate women. These sites aren’t only frequented by women but plenty of men as well; it just so happens that a lot of TR-webmistrisses, fanartists, and walkthrough scribes are women. Even in the relatively male-dominated TR custom level community, many female builders are held in great esteem as some of the best level-crafters around. This diverse, productive community has been thriving for nearly 20 years now.

But no, all of these women have been wrong to enjoy and be inspired by Ms. Croft’s exploits for years now, because in many advertising renders, Lara Croft has big breasts, and that means she is only a male fantasy meant to cater to men, and can never be anything else. Never mind that many of us women who play the games shamelessly commit the crime of having big breasts. Personally, I’m a fairly small woman, but also a D-cup; I’M SORRY. I just drank lots of milk as a child, and here we are.

It’s like many critics can’t acknowledge that there was anything good about Lara, because that’s like acknowledging that the “bad old days” of video games when everything was allegedly sexist and horrible maybe had some redeeming value, and that makes their rallying cries of “THIS IS SO HORRIBLE IT MUST BE FIXED ASAP!” seem a little less urgent (and it’s still the bad old days, apparently). You know what? You can make the point that gender imbalance exists in games, and deserves attention, without having to throw every female character from the past under the bus as worthless; I do this like, all the time. Strangely, I still exist.

But wait, we’re not done with Lara Croft yet! Then there’s Reboot Lara, where the developers decided to correct the heinous mistake of giving Lara large breasts, and gave her much smaller breasts. But wait, Reboot Lara is also bad, because while Original Recipe Lara at least was an over-the-top cartoon character, Reboot Lara is more vulnerable, thus less badass and devoid of agency. OH NOES THEY TOOK HER AGENCY! HOW DARE THEY TAKE HER AGENCY????????

Wait, so the original problem was that Lara was supposedly just a pair of boobs with no personality…now they’ve removed the boobs and given her a personality, but the fact that she has more human doubts and vulnerabilities (due to being a more psychologically realistic character) makes her weak? Wait, do you want her to be a fully-realized character or not? What do you want? What the FUCK would it take to make you happy?

2. Men don’t know how to write women so most female game characters are just “Men With Breasts”

This is one I’ve often heard in relation to Lara, but other female characters get this a lot too. The idea is that, since many female characters don’t manifest any stereotypically feminine traits, and instead function very similarly to their male counterparts, only with female character models, that’s…bad?

But wait…if the characters are being written as essentially gender-neutral, isn’t that the opposite of sexism? Isn’t that a good thing? Apparently not, because “Men With Breasts” are just male creators trying to write women, but they can’t, because I don’t know, Patriarchy or something. So even though the characters are portrayed as able to do anything their male counterparts do, it doesn’t count as positive female representation in games, because they’re not REALLY women.

I guess the answer to the “Men With Breasts” problem is to give these female characters more personality; give them strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities…waitaminute, wouldn’t that therefore be weakening them and taking away their agency? OH MY GOD YOU TOOK AWAY THEIR AGENCY!!!!!!!

“Silly Karen,” the erudite games journalist with entirely too much confidence in her college education writes, “You’re being willfully ignorant. It’s entirely possible to write a female character who is indisputably feminine, indisputably has agency, and indisputably has weaknesses without those weaknesses appearing to be the fault of her sex. That’s all we’re looking for!”

You know what? Celebrated writers (those smart people who write words on paper where you really have to concentrate because there’s no buttons to press or anything), THEY can’t even fucking do that. Show me one writer, of any status, who has the consistent ability to write realistically flawed female characters without said flaws registering as regrettable evidence of misogyny to at least a sizeable percentage of readers. Go ahead, find one: I’ll be here all day.

Still waiting.

…LOL no George R.R. Martin doesn’t count, tons of female critics hate his guts, but nice try.

The greatest writers humanity has ever produced can’t even do this, and you expect it from VIDEO GAME WRITERS? What the FUCK would it take to please you?!

3. Video Game Narratives Are Propelled by Violence Against Women And We Should Be Ashamed of Ourselves

This argument isn’t as stupid just on the face of it; I mean, it’s basically true. So many games have been about male characters fighting to save their endangered girlfriends/daughter/whatever, or avenging the (generally gruesome) deaths of their girlfriend/daughter/whatever. Violence against women is used as the impetus for the character to take action.

This leads to a natural question: why isn’t violence against men ever used as the impetus for a game story? Well, because no one fucking cares about violence against men, really. When a woman gets hurt in a game, it’s a fully-rendered cutscene, complete with sad voice acting and dramatic music and everything; when a man gets hurt in a game, it’s called the entire fucking game.

Now, it’s not a fair comparison; female NPCs are generally Good People, while the enemies you fight are hostile and it’s kill-or-be-killed. Still, I think it’s hard to argue that there’s an implicit message here that violence against women is SIGNIFICANT and demands ACTION, while violence against men is just…well…normal? Women are special snowflakes, and the male character’s very soul is wrapped around the idea of protecting them, while men are depicted as replaceable worker bees who spawn in infinite numbers; no one is invested in them. They have no souls, and just generally suck.

Is it due to misogyny that you almost never see a videogame plot where a man has to rescue a male friend or relative rather than a female? Or is it the flipside to that; that men are expected to be able to take care of themselves, and if they can’t do that, well, fuck them, because who cares? Why would a dude risk his life for, I don’t know, his nephew or some shit? His nephew isn’t beautiful; his nephew doesn’t COMPLETE him on some deep spiritual level.

You can’t just make the “game narratives run on violence against women,” point without acknowledging what has to come with it: game narratives acknowledge violence against women as important, because women are important in men’s lives. Violence against men is seen as less important because, I don’t know, fuck men.

Of course, if a dude did go to rescue his nephew or whatever, female critics (and that one guy who writes for Kotaku) would complain endlessly about the lack of female characters in the game. I can see it now: “As depressing as the dependence on the damsel-in-distress trope is, at least when games were going through the women-in-refrigerators phase, we saw female NPCS; now, in this game about a man saving his emphatically male nephew, man-to-man, his girlfriend/daughter is no longer important, thus female players are left with no character to relate to…” That’s exactly how the article would read, right? It’s not just me?

Of course, the hypothetical game I’m talking about here could try to increase its female representation by making some of the enemies female, since most of the characters in the game will generally be enemies– but then that’s VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN MISOGYNY GUYS ARE GETTING OFF ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN OMG HOW COULD THEY DO THIS

What the FUCK do you want? What the FUCK would it take to please you? Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK

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As you may have already surmised, I could go on like this for some time, but you probably get the idea; even if creators try to do things that seem more female-friendly, there’s always some angle from which the female-friendly thing can be interpreted as sexism and/or misogyny; it virtually never fails.

If, for some reason, you are a game critic who insists on continuing to write about these topics, then please, for the love of all that’s holy, do me a favor: start being consistent, and stop shifting the goal posts at every turn. If you want characters to be feminine, then you have to accept the fact that there’s no consensus of opinion as to the difference between “genuinely feminine” and “stereotypically feminine,” and your female characters will manifest some stereotypes. If you want your characters to be psychologically realistic, accept the fact that with that comes flaws, and with those flaws comes a limiting of agency; realistic characters are limited by their weaknesses. And if you truly want gender-neutrality in games, accept the fact that that will actually mean MORE violence against women on-screen, not less, since violence is how we interface with so many games.

Or, if you’ve never given any of this much thought and just parrot the “Sexism in games BOO” line because it’s been a good way to attract sycophants who want to feel good about themselves since 2011-ish, for the love of God, shut the fuck up. You don’t even know what you want, and I’m sick of people retweeting your bullshit because they think it makes them look progressive.

8 thoughts on “Things Game Critics Need to STFU About”

  1. Back when Scarlet Blade launched I played it for a bit with the intent of writing a blog post on it. The blog post never happened, but the experience is somewhat relevant so I’ll share it. The interesting thing about that game, which honestly wasn’t a great game and absolutely had a ridiculous portrayal of woman, is that a decent amount of the vocal fan base was made up of women and transsexual men. When they talked about and defended the game they called it empowering and actually liked the fact that they could play a game with “sexy” women without worry of obnoxious teenage boys.(and men who act like obnoxious teenage boys which is probably the case more often than not) And as someone who has played a ton of MMOs that was essentially true to my experience with the game. I generally play a female character in MMOs. I’ve been hit on in basically every MMO I’ve ever played. Scarlet Blade is the only MMO I’ve played for more than a few hours where I haven’t been hit on. And let me make it perfectly clear that I don’t pretend to be a woman. Getting hit on just happens when you run through town or stand around in the noob zone long enough with a female character. I hope that strikes people as Ironic. Scarlet Blade gets flack for being one of the most sexist MMOs ever. In practice the community doesn’t act that way. At least that was true at release, I can’t speak for how the game is now, I only played it for a few weeks after release.

    Game critics need to realize that sexy and sexist are not mutually exclusive, even if they don’t think the characters are sexy. The emphasis on intent is ridiculous and needs to be dropped. They also need to realize that the bad experience of one woman with a game does not make that game sexist against all women. If there are women who can enjoy a game like Scarlet Blade then clearly something is wrong with current dialog about sexist video games. A big part of the problem is the absoluteness of the arguments. There is no room for criticism by design. The arguments I see rarely allow for those ideas and that needs to change.

  2. Wonderful. Brilliant. Bravo. And other positive-sounding noises. You sum up most of my frustrations with modern games criticism — particularly when it comes to people who aren’t into Japanese games reviewing Japanese games, which is a specific bugbear of mine.

    You’re absolutely right that there’s a whole lot of parroting going on. Words like “problematic”, “privilege” and “misogyny” get dropped into articles as buzzwords to give said articles a distinctly sociological bent — when in most cases the people writing them haven’t made any real effort to study the sociological principles behind things like feminism in any great detail.

    Anyway, I was pointed in the direction of this post by a friend and just wanted to applaud you for writing it. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1. Thanks. It would be one thing if critics were applying feminist principals on some kind of consistent basis, but there’s about a million different interpretations and critics seem to go with whatever conveniently paints the target content as most egregious. It’s Calvinball.

  3. As a writer myself, this is just one reason why I never bother with trying to please people. Because you can’t.

    I try my damnedest to write great characters of all kinds. Yes, even my female characters. And I didn’t set out to try and make them great female characters at all, I just focused on making the best characters I could. The exact same mindset I had when writing males.

    When you push an issue too hard or try to sell a story on how “strong” its characters are, it becomes obnoxious. Characters don’t need to be strong necessarily, they need to be interesting. Strengths can be interesting, weaknesses can be interesting too.

    None of my characters are perfect little angels. They all have strengths and weaknesses and can seem like very flawed human beings in some instances. But I’ve done my best to make them interesting, so that you want to follow through with them, wherever they go.

    I didn’t mean to brag about mah totes ossum writing skillz, just thought I’d give my thoughts on how I think character writing should be done.

    1. Yeah, I get annoyed with the emphasis on “strong” female characters as well. Demanding that all females in fiction be strong is just as sexist as demanding that all females be weak.

      Personally I think men can write female characters effectively, and women can write male characters effectively. There are some situations where the first-hand experience of being the same gender as your character helps a lot, but that doesn’t mean people have to be limited to writing within their own gender. Some writers are poor at writing opposite-gender characters because they lack imagination and/or empathy, but that’s not exclusive to male writers. Some writers are just more versatile than others.

  4. Solution: All writers must now do either one of two things.

    1) Parrot Ursula le Guin. Write completely alien characters that share gender characteristics but are not themselves a recognizable gender.

    2) Have at least two sex changes. Spend at least 5 years in first sex change. Now, sorry, but you can only write about females at that age you experienced being a female (same applies if you were in a female to male to female author situation).

    3) Shut the fuck up 🙂

    Love the article, hope it gets more attention.

    1. I really gotta read me some Ursula le Guin. Been meaning to for years, but I somehow keep forgetting. Shame on me as a fantasy lover!

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